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In a Strange City: A Tess Monaghan Novel

In a Strange City: A Tess Monaghan Novel

Автором Laura Lippman

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In a Strange City: A Tess Monaghan Novel

Автором Laura Lippman

оценки:
3.5/5 (24 оценки)
Длина:
428 pages
7 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Oct 13, 2009
ISBN:
9780061807442
Формат:
Книге

Описание

New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan must put her PI skills to the ultimate test when she falls into the crosshairs of a psychopath who knows everything about her.

For the past fifty years on the birth date of Edgar Allan Poe, a person wearing a cloak has placed three roses and a half bottle of cognac on the writer’s gravesite. PI Tess Monaghan has never witnessed the event. But when John P. Kennedy, an eccentric antiques dealer, asks her to uncover the identity of the caped visitor, who he believes has duped him with the sale of an inauthentic antique, Tess decides to hold vigil on the night the cloaked stranger is expected to make an appearance. But the custom takes on a bizarre, fatal twist when two cloaked figures arrive. The imitator leaves his tribute and then makes his escape…after shooting the first visitor. 

Warning bells tell Tess to steer clear of this case. But when roses and cognac appear on her doorstep, Tess’s curiosity is piqued. She soon discovers that John P. Kennedy has vanished into thin air and much of what he told her was questionable. Then the identity of the shooting victim comes to light, and all clues seem to point to the possibility he was the target of a hate crime. But Tess isn’t convinced. What was his connection to the decades-long Edgar Allan Poe tradition and to the killer? When more cryptic clues are left at her home, Tess realizes that someone is watching her every move...someone who’s bent on killing again.

Издатель:
Издано:
Oct 13, 2009
ISBN:
9780061807442
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

Since Laura Lippman's debut in 1997, she has been recognized as a distinctive voice in mystery fiction and named one of the "essential" crime writers of the last 100 years. Her books have won most of the major awards in her field and been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her daughter.

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In a Strange City - Laura Lippman

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PROLOGUE

He begins on January 1, always January 1, playing with his body’s schedule until he is increasingly nocturnal, staying up until dawn. Sometimes he finds an all-night diner, although he has learned not to rely on the crutch of caffeine to get through this. He takes a book, sips water or juice, eats plain things: a soft-boiled egg, whole wheat toast, rice pudding. It takes almost three weeks to prepare, another three weeks to recover, but preparation is crucial. He learned that the first year.

The first year. How long has it been now? He doesn’t want to count. How naïve he was, how unthinking. How young, in other words. He did not stop to consider the enormity of the commitment he was making, how quickly it would begin to feel like a prison sentence. He did not know how the cold settled in one’s bones for days. He did not realize the cape would rip and unravel and he would have to learn to repair it, for he could not risk taking it to the seamstress at the dry cleaners. He did not work out the logistics of buying roses at this time of year, how he would have to move from florist to florist and buy more than he needed, lest someone put it together.

The cognac was easy, at least. He bought it by the case, at a 10 percent discount, at Beltway Liquors.

What’s the difference between a ritual and a routine? It’s a question he asks himself almost every day. Are rituals better than routines, more elevated? Or do rituals invariably slide into routine, until we forget why we started and why we continue? Another good question, but he’s afraid pondering the answer will only tempt him to sleep, and he is determined to see the sun rise today. Once upon a midnight dreary . . . ah, but such allusions are unworthy, the sort of obvious unthinking wordplay one expects from the newspaper hacks who write about him. Even in print, they cannot capture him.

He would not say it out loud—for one thing, he has no one to whom to say it—but he has begun to feel a kinship with Santa Claus. Who knows, Saint Nick was probably real once. A man decides to put on a red suit, visit a few houses in his village, and leave gifts behind. The first year, it was a lark. The next year, it was an obligation. And then the next, and the next, until he could never stop.

But in that case, the tradition outgrew the man, so others had to step forward and preserve it. He cannot count on this happening here. He had been chosen, and soon he must choose.

The room is cold. The landlord turns the heat down at night. He stirs the embers in the dying fire, tucks a stadium blanket around his legs. He knows this blue-plaid blanket. It was his father’s; it came in a plastic bag that zipped and had been used exclusively for its named purpose. He remembers being beneath it at Memorial Stadium, watching the Colts, drinking hot chocolate from an old-fashioned thermos, the very thermos that now sits on his desk, dented here and there and full of herbal tea, not chocolate, but still going strong.

He takes such good care of his things, he overheard his mother say once, admiringly, to a friend, and he was so unused to this prideful tone in her voice that he determined he would always be known for this. He takes such good care of his things. He still has his train set, his Lincoln Logs, a silver bullet presented to him by Clayton Moore, even the blue Currier & Ives plates from his mother’s kitchen. The Museum of Me, that’s how he thinks of his place here in North Baltimore, where every item has a history. It’s a charming image: his apartment behind Plexiglas, hushed visitors trooping through, as if this were Monticello or Mount Vernon. Ladies and gentlemen, this thermos was present for the Colts’ loss to the New York Jets, as was this plaid blanket.

Actually, he remembers the blanket better than the games; it was scratchier then, for it was still new, and they could never fold it so it went back into the case. Mother always had to do that for them when they got home. He wonders what happened to the case, how the blanket survived when the case did not.

But it’s the same thing with the body, is it not? The case cannot survive, yet it may leave something behind. He has no children, no money to speak of, and his things—his books, his various collections—will go to his alma mater, déclassé as College Park might be. His only legacy is this secret, and he can give it to only one person. Yet it seems increasingly possible that no one will have it. No one wants it.

There would have been more possibilities a generation ago, he’s sure of that. More men like himself from whom to pick. These days, he does not meet many people, like himself or otherwise, and this saddens him. There was one, encountered by chance in the all-night diner on Twenty-ninth Street—but no, that young man was clearly not what he seemed. He finds himself loitering in used-book shops and antiques stores, where young women go into ecstasies over old green-handled potato mashers and pastry cutters. He feels as if he is not much different. An odd tool, prized for its quaint, decorative quality but of no utility.

He did not think people could go out of style, but apparently he has. The vocabulary used to describe a man like himself, once full of solemn dignity, has been reduced to the simperingly ironic. Bachelor. Sometimes, meeting a new person, he pretends to be a widower. If the new acquaintance is a woman, her face lights up in a way she may not realize. A widower! It means he was capable of living with someone, at least once. But that was the one thing of which he was never capable, no more than he could end a sentence with a preposition. He needs solitude, craves it the way some people yearn for food, or sex, or drink. Is it so freakish to want to live alone?

His head tips forward from its own weight; he jerks it back and fixes his gaze on the view. A rim of light is on the horizon. No clouds, which means it will be even colder today than it was yesterday, and colder still tomorrow. The appointed night has never been less than freezing; he has not once caught a break with the weather, and there have been times—sleet sharp as knives, streets impassable with snow—when he wondered if he would make it at all. This year promises to be no different. Why January? he thinks, not for the first time. Why not October, the day he died? The weather is so much more reliable then.

The ghostly glow in the east expands; the sky’s hem is pink. Ten more minutes, and he will let himself sleep. Perhaps if he recited something. He remembers a game he and P played, where someone picked a single word—dream, night, midnight, soul—and then recited in turn, until their knowledge was exhausted. P had always won, but P is long gone. He has to play by himself.

Let’s see, Night. The night—tho’ clear—shall frown. Soul. There is a two-fold silence—sea and shore—body and soul. One dwells in lonely places. Heaven. Thank Heaven! the crisis— / The danger is past,/And the lingering illness is over at last— / And the fever called living / Is conquered at last. Dream. Is all that we see or seem/But a dream within a dream?

Which makes him think of yet another line: I have been happy—tho’ but in a dream / I have been happy—and I love the theme.

One dwells in lonely places. The fever called living. Isn’t he morbid tonight? Then again, it’s not as if there were many cheerful lines from which to pick. We do not choose him, P had said; he chooses us. Oh, P had been seductive as a vampire in those early days, and his aim was not much different. But it was not the poetry that reeled him in, or the tales. For him, it was the discovery of the house where three men had met, bestowed a prize, and changed the course of literary history. That such a thing had happened, here in Baltimore, was wondrous to him.

He had been fifteen then, sure of the prizes awaiting him—not for writing but for acting or directing. When the prizes and the expected accolades did not come, he accepted his lot in life. He realized some were made to create, others to appreciate. He became a first-class appreciator; he apprenticed himself to P and the rest was—he grins, refusing to finish the cliché. Besides, it’s not even accurate. How can one be history if no one knows who you are?

The sun is up, which means he may lie down. His body is almost ready, but for how many more years? And what if something unexpected happens—an accident, an assault? That man he approached . . . there was something unsettling about him, now that he considers it. Maybe it was for the best when the man declined to come home with him that night, that he so misunderstood the invitation. A man was beaten in his home not far from here, just before New Year’s. A single man, living alone. A bachelor. A man with an opera subscription and membership at a certain health club and a summer house in Dewey Beach. Things he has too—well, not the summer house and not box seats. How funny it would be, how ironic, if he were to complete his mission this year only to die on the way home, beaten by some lunatic.

I’ll find someone this year, he promises P—and himself. Somehow, some way. He must. Nevermore will be forevermore, but not for me. This will be my last visit to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

1

His card said he specialized in porcelain, but Tess Monaghan couldn’t help thinking of her prospective client as the Porcine One. He had a round belly and that all-over pink look, heightened by a rashlike red on his cheeks, a souvenir of the cold day. His legs were so short that Tess felt ungracious for not owning a footstool, which would have kept them from swinging, childlike, above the floor. The legs ended in tiny feet encased in what must be the world’s smallest—and shiniest—black wing tips. These had clicked across her wooden floor like little hooves. And now, after thirty minutes in this man’s company, Tess was beginning to feel as crotchety and inhospitable as the troll beneath the bridge.

But that had been a story about a goat, she reminded herself. She was mixing her fairy-tale metaphors. He seemed to be a nice man, if a garrulous one. Let him huff and puff.

I don’t have a shop, not really, he was saying. I did once, but I find I can do as much business through my old contacts. And the Internet, of course. A good scout doesn’t need a shop.

Of course.

He had been chatting about Fiestaware and Depression glass since he arrived. It wasn’t clear if he even knew he was in a private detective’s office. That was okay. She had nothing else to occupy her time on a January afternoon.

"Those auction sites are really for-amateurs-only, if you know what I mean. That’s where I go when I want to unload something that doesn’t have any real value but which people might get emotional about. For example, let’s say I was going to try to sell a Fiestaware gravy boat in teal, which is a very rare color. I’d have to set the reserve so high that people would get all outraged and think I was trying to cheat them. But put a Lost in Space lunch box out there, and they just go crazy, even if it’s dented and the original thermos is missing."

Tess glanced at her notes, where so far she had written the man’s name, J. P. Kennedy/antique scout, and not much else. She added gravy boat/teal and Lost in Space—no thermos.

"Now, you have some nice things, the Porcine One said suddenly. This Planter’s Peanut jar and the Berger cookie jar. I could get you good money for these. And the clock. Especially the clock."

He stared almost hungrily at the Time for a Haircut clock that had once hung in a Woodlawn barbershop. Tess wondered if he would be similarly impressed by the neon sign in her dining room at home, which said Human Hair. That had come from a beauty supply shop, one where the demand for human hair was no longer so great as to require solicitation.

Look, Mr.—she glanced covertly at her desk calendar, having blanked on his name—Kennedy—

Call me John. No relation. He giggled; there was no other word for it. A cheerleader or a sorority girl would have been embarrassed to emit such a coy little squeal. I’m JPK, I guess you could say. That’s why I sometimes use the full name, John Pendleton Kennedy, to avoid confusion, but it only seems to add confusion. You may call me John.

Mr. Kennedy, she repeated. Being on a first-name basis was highly overrated, in Tess’s opinion. I was under the impression you were interested in hiring me, not scouting my possessions for a quick buck.

Oh, I am, I am. Interested in hiring you. But he was looking at her Planter’s jar now, where she stored her business-related receipts until she had time to file them. He even held out a pudgy pink hand, as if to stroke the jar’s peanut curves. On the sofa across the room, Tess’s greyhound, Esskay, raised her head, ears pointed straight up. The Porcine One’s hand was dangerously close to the Berger cookie jar, which held Esskay’s favorite treats.

People rush so, these days, Mr. Kennedy said. Yet he spoke as quickly as anyone Tess had ever known, his words tumbling nervously over each other. No pleasantries, no chitchat. I suppose we’ll stop saying ‘How are you?’ before long. I can’t remember the last time someone said ‘Bless you’ or even ‘Gesundheit’ after a sneeze. Again, I blame the Internet. It creates an illusion of speed. And E-mail. Don’t get me started on E-mail.

Get him started? All Tess wanted to figure out was how to get him to stop.

It’s a hard time to be an honest man, he said, then looked surprised, as if caught off guard by his own non sequitur. A good sign, Tess thought. He had inadvertently veered closer to the subject of why he was here.

How so?

Dealers such as myself, we are expected to go to great lengths to make sure the items we buy and sell are legitimate. Yet there is little protection afforded us by the law when we are duped. When I buy something, I do everything I can to ensure I’m dealing with someone reputable. Then it turns up on some hot sheet and I’m expected to give it back, with no recompense for my time and money.

Tess had no idea what he was talking about. You bought something that was stolen and you had to give it back?

Something like that. He folded his little hands across his round belly, settling into his chair as if Tess were a dentist, the truth an infected molar she was preparing to extract. No, he was more like a patient in therapy, one who enjoyed the endlessly narcissistic process of paying someone to figure out why he did what he did.

But she had no patience for this form of Twenty Questions, although she had played it with other clients. It was one thing to coax a woman into confessing that she feared her husband was having an affair or to help a tearful mother admit she was looking for a runaway daughter, driven out of the house by a stepfather’s inappropriate attentions. This man, the Porcine One, Mr. Kennedy, was interested only in objects. Which he called, perhaps inevitably, objets.

Please, could we cut to the chase, Mr. Kennedy?

John. Or Johnny, if you will. The same high-pitched giggle came geysering out of him.

Tess pointed to the Time for a Haircut clock. I hate to be strict, but in five minutes, if you haven’t explained why you’re here, my hourly fee is going to kick in. And I don’t charge in increments. In other words, you’re soon going to be paying me the equivalent of several place settings of Fiestaware.

He looked thoughtful. What color?

Mr. Kennedy.

He held up his hands, as if to ward off a blow, although she had not spoken in a particularly loud or forceful voice. The greyhound hadn’t budged during the exchange.

You may think it’s a petty beef. A man did me wrong in a business deal.

Did me wrong. It struck her as an odd phrasing, better suited to a blues song than fenced goods.

You underpriced something and someone took advantage of your ignorance?

He shook his head, which made his chins wobble. He looked so soft he might have been sculpted from butter. She imagined him melting, à la the Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Then she imagined cleaning up the greasy little puddle he would leave behind.

No, he sold me an item that was not what he said it was. The authenticity papers were forged.

And the item was—?

That’s not important. He saw this was not going to satisfy her. A bracelet. It had belonged to a young woman from a prominent family, or so he said. That was the part that proved to be a lie.

So? Caveat emptor applies to you, does it not?

He cheated me. Mr. Kennedy squeezed his little hands into an approximation of fists, but his fingers were so short he could barely hold on to his own thumbs. Tess, five foot nine since age twelve, found small men amusing.

Then sue him.

Litigation would bring no remedy and might do much harm. He paused, waiting to see if she was following him. She wasn’t, but then, she wasn’t trying very hard. She could use a job, but she didn’t need this job.

Any financial recovery I might make would be overshadowed by the damage to my reputation. It was a sophisticated forgery, quite cunning, and the best appraisers are caught from time to time, but still . . . my business depends on word of mouth. Besides, there was not a lot of money involved. I paid only one thousand dollars for the bracelet.

Tess caught a little flash of daylight. And how much did you think you could sell it for?

The question irritated Mr. Kennedy, who huffed and puffed indignantly. Obviously, one has to make a profit. . . . If one wants full value for an item, let one take it to the marketplace himself and absorb all the costs, all the risks. I am not a currency exchange, I am not—

How much did you think it was worth, Mr. Kennedy?

He sighed. If the letter had been real, I would have taken it to auction in New York. Handled right, it would have brought in a nice sum—although not so much as if Princess Diana had worn it. Strange times we live in.

Who owned it? I mean, presumably who owned it?

Betsy Patterson.

The name meant nothing to Tess, but she surmised it should.

You might know her better as Betsy Bonaparte.

She did, but not by much. The Baltimore girl who married . . .

Jerome, Napoleon’s brother. The emperor later forced him to come home and marry someone more suitable. Still, if it had been true— He made a fish mouth, as if to kiss good-bye his dream of an easy score. Something told Tess it was the only kind of kissing he got a chance to do.

He cheated you.

Yes.

But if the letter had been authentic, you would have cheated him. Do you believe in karma, Mr. Kennedy?

I’m an Episcopalian, he squealed.

Tess pinched the bridge of her nose. She was on the verge of a headache, something she usually experienced only via a hangover. Please tell me what you think a private detective can do for you.

I believe the man who cheated me has a secret—a secret he would go to great lengths to protect. If I knew his secret, he would have to pay me the money he owed me. But it involves following him, and he would recognize me if I attempted that. I need a private detective to prove what I think is true.

Mr. Kennedy, you’re talking about blackmail, and I can’t be a party to it.

He looked indignant. How is it any different from tracking insurance cheats and adulterous husbands around town, snapping their pictures and turning them over to lawyers? Isn’t that a form of blackmail?

She wondered how he had come to be so perceptive about the work that filled most of her hours. For every flashy headline-making case that had put Tess in the public eye for a few days, there were twenty basic no-brainer jobs that fit Mr. Kennedy’s thumbnail description. Perhaps, but it’s legal.

Well, let’s say you verify my hunch and forget I told you why I wanted to know.

I can’t fake amnesia, Mr. Kennedy. She was becoming interested in spite of herself. But if you know this person’s secret, or think you do, why not bluff him?

I need proof, and I can only get the proof on one day of the year. Which happens to be the day after tomorrow at Greene and Fayette Streets, sometime between midnight and six A.M. January nineteenth.

You know the time, you know the place. Why not wait for him there?

As I told you, I’m not very good at being inconspicuous.

She could see that. In the fedora and camel’s-hair coat he had worn to this interview, he resembled a beige bowling ball. And his prancing walk was unforgettable.

He looked at her slyly. The date doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?

January nineteenth? Not offhand.

It’s the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe. And the night that the Visitor, the so-called Poe Toaster, comes.

Tess knew this story. Everyone in Baltimore did. For more than fifty years now, someone had visited the old graveyard where Poe was buried, leaving behind three roses and half a bottle of cognac. No one knew the man’s identity. It had been suggested that the baton had passed, that a new Visitor came now, perhaps even a third one. Life magazine had photographed him one year, but from a respectful distance. It was one mystery no one wanted to solve. Unless—

You think the man who cheated you is the Visitor?

As I said, I have no proof. But if I did . . . He held his palms up in the air, but the gesture was not as charming as he had intended.

But that’s sick. Why don’t you just drive around to area malls and tell kids waiting in line there’s no Santa Claus? What if you unmask the Visitor and he decides to stop? You’ll have ruined a beautiful tradition the entire city loves. Even if few had ever seen it, including Tess. It was awfully cold on a January midnight. But she had read the dutiful accounts in the Beacon-Light every year. The visit was, in some ways, Baltimore’s groundhog, a dead-of-winter ritual that held a promise of spring.

I wouldn’t take the knowledge public. I’d simply use it to ensure he paid me what I’m owed. If I’m right, he added. I could be wrong, I suppose.

Which would only make it worse. The Visitor might be scared away for no reason.

It’s a childish custom, if you think about it. Mr. Kennedy sniffed. And it will end one day, for whatever reason. Everything ends. Does that woman still go to Valentino’s grave? Does Joe DiMaggio still send flowers to Marilyn Monroe, now that he’s dead? Everything peters out. A dramatic ending would be better. It would give people—what’s that hideous word?—closure. Might generate a few headlines for you as well, and you’ve never been averse to publicity.

The last was untrue, unfair even. Tess loathed the media in the way only a former reporter could. The Beacon-Light had never written about her without getting at least one salient fact wrong, and it had given her four different middle initials over the years. As for free advertising, she had noticed that the bump of interest she received after any press attention, large or small, yielded little in actual work. The sort of people who picked a private investigator because her name had shown up in the morning paper were not people who thought things through with much care.

How did you happen to come to me, Mr. Kennedy?

He lowered his eyes. Truthfully?

Please.

Truthfully, I’ve been working my way through the phone book, concentrating on the smaller agencies. No one has agreed to help me, and it’s January seventeenth.

In other words, you have a little more than twenty-four hours or your window of opportunity closes for a year. Isn’t there some other way to find this man and make him pay you what he owes? You’ve seen him, you know what he looks like, you had a name for him.

He’s vanished. He might as well be smoke. He gave me a fake name and address.

How can you know so little about him and be so sure he’s the Visitor?

Um—the person who introduced us alluded to same.

Go to him, then. Or her.

That person . . . has moved away. So you see why I need your help.

Never. She was tempted to say Nevermore, but she tried not to mock clients to their faces, even the ones she was turning down.

But if—

Never.

Mr. Kennedy stood, tapping his pudgy fingers on the lid of the cookie jar. Esskay was back at full alert, ears pricked in perfect triangles, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was abstracted, lost in thought.

You weren’t my first choice, he said. I’ve tried four others, but they were too busy to grant me an appointment.

Good. He might have meant to insult her, but Tess was relieved to know the clock was working against him.

I’d like to state for the record that I didn’t hire you. She admired his phrasing, the way he pretended the decision had been his. And I’m going to assume our discussion here has been confidential.

That’s how I do business. I can’t vouch for anyone else, however.

I don’t suppose you’d want to sign something to that effect? I mean, how naïve would a man have to be to count on such a promise, without proof?

I don’t know. How naïve—or greedy—would a man have to be to believe that a bracelet offered at a bargain price really belonged to Betsy Patterson Bonaparte?

It’s not about greed, he murmured, more to himself than to her. It never is, not really, although that’s what most people think. Unselfconsciously, he lifted the lid of the cookie jar, picked a dark-brown square from the top, and tossed it in his mouth before Esskay could roll from the sofa and demand her portion.

Mr. Kennedy—

I’m sorry, I should have asked first. I have such a sweet tooth, it’s a sickness with me.

No, it’s just that . . . those are homemade dog treats, from a bakery in South Baltimore. They’re made of molasses and soy.

Oh. Well, that explains why it wasn’t sweeter.

He buttoned his camel’s-hair coat to the chin and tapped out into the world. Tess almost—almost—felt sorry for him. But watching him trot away, she found herself thinking of the ending of Animal Farm, where it was no longer possible to tell the men from the pigs, or the pigs from the men.

2

Two days out of five, Tess still turned in the wrong direction when she left her office at day’s end. She headed south, to her old apartment in Fells Point, instead of north, to the house where she had lived for almost a year. She did it again after the Porcine One’s visit and chided herself under her breath.

To observe she was a creature of habit was to say that Baltimore was the largest city in Maryland—factual, but nothing more. Tess loved ruts, reveled in ruts, hunkered down into her routines like a dog who had dug a hole in the backyard in order to snooze the summer day away. She sometimes worried she was just a few chapters short of becoming an Anne Tyler character, a gentle Baltimore eccentric shopping at the Giant in her bedroom slippers and pajama bottoms.

Actually, she had gone to the grocery store in her pajama bottoms, but just once, and very early in the morning. Besides, they were plaid, with a drawstring, and indistinguishable from sweatpants. And she had worn real shoes.

Moving, even if it had not been her idea, had promised a fresh start, a chance to embrace change. Now it was becoming apparent that Tess was capable only of substituting one routine for another. She had swapped her bagel breakfast at Jimmy’s for a bagel and coffee at the Daily Grind, switched her allegiance from the Egyptian pizza parlor on Broadway to the Egyptian pizza place on Belvedere. She did go to a new video store, the exquisitely stocked Video Americain. She ended up renting movies she had already seen.

The new house underscored her oddness. It was a house, a domicile, in only the loosest use of the word—it had four walls, a roof, indoor plumbing, and electricity. Tess had nicknamed this work-in-progress the Dust Bowl, and she was getting accustomed to going through life sprinkled with bits of plaster, wood, and paint. Sometimes, she found the oddest things in her bed: a latch from one of the kitchen cabinets, for example; a screwdriver; even the occasional nail on her pillow, as if a disgruntled carpenter wanted to send a warning.

She had known it needed much work and known it would take much time. Even as a first-time home-owner, she had been savvy enough to realize the estimates were only a fraction of what they would become, in both labor and material costs. But she had forgotten about God, so-called acts thereof. The weather had been gleefully uncooperative for much of the past year, sending rain whenever outside projects were planned, dropping temperatures when indoor projects involved powerful solvents that needed to be vented, whipping up a little mudslide the day the landscaper arrived.

Still, they had managed to accomplish quite a bit—and the house was still a wreck. Under her father’s watchful eye, Tess had dutifully arranged for what she thought of as the essential-but-dull improvements: roof, heating and cooling system, updated electricity, replacement windows, new plumbing, new siding. The result was a snug, energy-efficient aesthetic nightmare, with odd bits of wallpaper and the hideous taste of the former owners hanging on like ghosts, from the Pepto-Bismol–pink tile of the forties-era bath to the avocado-green appliances in the cramped kitchen.

But it was home, and it showed a handsome face to the outside, as Tess noted with satisfaction when she pulled into East Lane. Her father had been appalled at her decision to choose cedar shingles over aluminum siding, toting up the cost of maintenance over the years. Tess had been adamantly impractical on this one point. She wanted the optical illusion of a house that faded into the trees. Her boyfriend, Crow, had heightened the effect by painting the door olive green. In summertime, Tess had felt as if she were entering a treehouse when she came home, passing through the green door into a private world hung in the oaks and elms above Stony Run Park.

But now it was winter, and the house looked even smaller than it was, not unlike a wet cat. Tess loved it still. Her fingertips brushed the mezuzah her mother had foisted off on her, ignoring Tess’s protestations that she was bi-agnostic. Home, she said, more or less to herself. She had a home, be it ever so humble. So what if her fingernails were never really clean again, or if strands of paint appeared to be woven in her brown braid. It was worth it, just to walk through the door and say, Honey, I’m home!

And to hear Honey call back from the kitchen,

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3.7
24 оценки / 11 Обзоры
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  • (1/5)
    The vampire was a shock. I felt unprepared for a Baltimore vampire. Was the author kidding? I didn't continue reading.
  • (4/5)
    PI Tess Monaghan gets drawn into a mystery involving Baltimore's famous "Poe Toaster", several murders and some possibly priceless "Baltimore-bilia". Cheers to Lippmann for writing with authenticity, involving a flawed and genuine main character, fascinating secondary characters, and an eventual climax that I did not see coming at all. Every Tess Monaghan book encourages me to learn something, as well as be entertained.I highly recommend this whole series.
  • (5/5)
    Here's what is nice about In a Strange City: if you have skipped other books in the Tess Monaghan series, you can get caught up pretty quickly without repetitiveness in this book. When I last left Miss Monaghan in Butchers Hill, her best friend was in Japan, she was kind of seeing Crow, her aunt was jumping from man to man searching for the right relationship and Tess was in business with someone else. Now, Whitney is back from Tokyo, Crow and Tess practically live together (Tess is out of her Aunt's place and in a real house now), her aunt is now dating Tyner and Tess has her own private investigation business (and she still has her greyhound. Yay!). Because Lippman is so smooth at bringing the reader up to speed, I feel like I just stepped out of the room for a minute. My only question - there was no mention of Tess rowing or working out at all. Did the fitness buff drop all that completely? As a private detective, Tess Monaghan is back and this time she has taken on a case quite by accident. A man claiming to have been scammed in an antiques deal wants Tess to take his case. Although Tess refuses, Crow convinces her to check out the man's claims. Through this interaction, Tess ends up witnessing a murder, finding out the would-be client doesn't exist, and then she starts receiving strange gifts and messages at work and then at home. Somehow, she knows, the all of this is connected. She knows someone wants her on the case. She couldn't stay out of it if she tried. Out of sheer curiosity she starts working the case...without a real client to speak of. It all hinges on the mysteriously "Poe Toaster", a unknown man who symbolically has a drink with the ghost of famed author, Edgar Allan Poe, every January 19th.
  • (3/5)
    January in Baltimore can only mean one thing – the annual visit to Edgar Allan Poe’s final resting place by the Poe Toaster, an anonymous person, dressed in cape and scarf, who leaves three roses and a half-full bottle of cognac at the grave on Poe’s birthday. PI Tess Monaghan gets embroiled in the tradition when a mysterious man tries to hire her to follow and unmask the Toaster. She declines the job, but winds up investigating when 1) TWO Toasters show up and one is shot, and 2) she receives a cryptic message (along with roses and cognac) giving her clues to the mystery.

    This is a well-crafted mystery with a little literary history thrown in. I will admit that I am a Poe fan, but I haven’t studied much about the man or the Toaster tradition. It was fun to learn a little more about these aspects through the novel. But the key to any mystery is the strength of the plot. Lippman gives us a number of interesting suspects, several inter-related plot twists, and an opposing police detective to keep things interesting and act as a foil or counterpoint to our heroine. Although I did think the plot got a little too complicated, and a few times I felt the story arc lost focus.

    What I really like about the series, though is Tess Monaghan. She’s curious, strong (both mentally and physically), tenacious, cares about her relationships with friends and family, and never relies on a man to get her out of a scrape. In fact, she partners with a couple of equally strong women in this outing. And I really like the very realistic way in which her relationship with Crow is portrayed.
  • (3/5)
    An enjoyable book that was, unfortunately, weakened by a flawed ending. Lippman deploys an interesting cast of characters and makes good use of location but never really shows her detective detecting rather than responding. The detective no only falls into the murder case she seems to have fallen into its solution.
  • (3/5)
    This is the sixth book in the Tess Monahan detective series about a thirty-one year old private investigator in Baltimore.The story is centered around Baltimore aficionados of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born in Boston in 1809 but died in Baltimore in 1849. (It was also in Baltimore that Poe married his 13-year-old cousin.) A little background to this story: Baltimore had a tradition, from 1949 until 2009, of visitations by the so-called “Poe Toaster.” [Lippman’s book was published in 2001.] Every year on Poe’s birthdate, a mysterious person wrapped in a cloak would show up at Poe’s grave in the early hours of the morning and leave three red roses and a partially filled bottle of French cognac. Onlookers also began gathering each year to catch the Poe Toaster in action. But after 2009, the visitations stopped. The Baltimore Sun reported that this year on January 19, 2011, four “toaster wannabes” showed up at the gravesite with the cognac and roses, but none of them matched the appearance of the real toaster. After two years without seeing the real toaster, the Sun reluctantly has concluded that “Maybe the time for nevermore is finally here.”Tess gets caught up in the Poe Toaster mania for a couple of reasons. One is that her boyfriend, Edgar Allan Ransome, or “Crow” (like Raven) was named for the author. Another is that she used to be an English major. And finally, a potential client came to her trying to hire her to “unmask” the Toaster, claiming that he had cheated him in some way and so the client needed to know his identity. Tess rejected the client, but felt pulled toward the case anyway. She and Crow went to join the onlookers on January 19, and two toasters showed up. One was murdered on the scene.As Tess pursues the murder case (even without a client), she gets caught up in Poe stories, and almost gets murdered herself, in a very Poe-like fashion.Evaluation: This isn’t my favorite of the Tess Monaghan stories; I am much more interested in Tess and her friends than in Poe and his. On the other hand, this book has one of my favorite lines of all the books I have read so far. When Tess meets a woman who thinks Tess may be competing for her lover, Lippman writes:"The blonde’s blue-green eyes had a frosty glaze that would have done a doughnut proud."How you feel about this book will probably depend on how much you enjoy finding out about Edgar Allan Poe.
  • (4/5)
    Every year in real life a mysterious figure leaves roses and a half bottle of cognac on Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore. Author Lippman builds a murder mystery around this event, wherein series sleuth Tess Monaghan finds herself in the middle of a most bewilding set of circumstances. Likely to appeal to cozy readers more than fans of more traditionally hard-boiled PIs, but the numerous allusions to Poe, the father of the mystery genre, add a nice note of fun to the affair. KB.
  • (4/5)
    Every year in Baltimore, on the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allen Poe, a mysterious visitor leaves roses and liquor at Poe's grave site. After an odd man tries and fails to hire Tess Monaghan to be there, she goes anyway out of curiosity. TWO visitors show up, and one is shot and killed.And then things get weird.Good book, in a good series.
  • (5/5)
    In a Strange City is the sixth Tess Monaghan mystery from Laura Lippman. In this installment, Lippman makes use of a long-standing Baltimore tradition, the Poe Toaster or Visitor. If by some chance you aren't familiar with the Poe Toaster, he's the individual who shows up at Poe's grave on January 19th each year to leave roses and cognac. Only this year, there's a murder at Poe's grave when the Toaster is supposed to arrive.Tess is not actually employed by anyone, but she begins to investigate who exactly the murder victim is and why he was murdered at Poe's grave site.As with the previous Tess Monaghan books, I listened to this one on audio. However, the difference was a new reader, Laurence Bouvard. It's hard to hear a new voice when you've become accustomed to another voice as that character, but it was especially hard with this recording because Laurence Bouvard sounded like she was about 12. And her voice for Crow sounded pre-pubescent. All I could think of were those old prints that use to be available with various sports stars as little kids. Remember those? This reading simply did not work for me.That being said, the plot of this caper was fantastic. I'm especially drawn to plots that weave in the classics. The Poe connection in Entombed was actually what got me started reading Linda Fairstein. Poe is a fascinating person from history, and Lippman did an excellent job of taking advantage of that Baltimore connection in this novel. And there is also the connection to Crow, who's real name is Edgar, and who's nickname evolved from Poe's The Raven poem.And of course, I loved Lippman's treatment of the magic of this Baltimore ritual. The magic that almost mirrors that of Santa Claus. Everyone has the right to enjoy this ritual. And that belief sharply contrasts the covetous antagonists in the novel.You have to pay attention in this novel because there is an intricate weaving of villains, but the investment is well worth it when the woven web catches it prey. The plot is fun, the characters are true to form - with a few new additions, and there's always a smattering of chuckles throughout.
  • (3/5)
    After rereading Enright's Melendy Quartet, I googled "spiderweb for two" and came across Laura Lippman's website, on which she had written that one of the plot points in this novel was inspired by that children's book. That was enough to make me read this mystery, which features the unknown 'Visitor' who stops by Edgar Allan Poe's grave on his birthday every year. It's a complex and interesting tale. I was not able to deduce the culprit before the final revelation.
  • (3/5)
    Synopsis: Baltimore is the city in which Edgar Allen Poe died and is buried. Each year on his birthday the 'Visitor' puts three red roses and a half bottle of cognac on his grave. During this remembrance, however, someone.shoots the Visitor look-alike and Tess witnesses the murder. Although she would like to stay out of it, someone is leaving messages, hints, and threats on her doorstep. Is the murderer after gay guys, the real Visitor, or someone else entirely and how does this tie in to local museums? Tess must answer these questions to save herself and trap a killer.Review: Pretty good...learned some things about Poe and about Baltimore.